I’M off to see Matt Smith again early next month at the launch of the new Doctor Who series.
Which will include a screening of the opening two-parter The Impossible Astronaut and Day Of The Moon.
But first comes the long awaited broadcast this Saturday night of Matt’s drama Christopher And His Kind.
I saw the film last October and thought it was both excellent and moving.
My feature is in today’s Manchester Evening News – and below.
DOCTOR WHO star Matt Smith goes back in time to play a very different role in 1930s Berlin.
“Hopefully watching, you don’t see the Doctor,” smiles the actor who plays Cheshire-born A Single Man writer Christopher Isherwood.
Christopher And His Kind (BBC2, Saturday, 9:30pm) is a one-off film exploring Isherwood’s formative years in Berlin and its gay sexual underworld.
It begins in 1976 as he types out his autobiography, from which this one-off film takes its name. We then see his journey to Germany, where he met actress and singer Jean Ross – the inspiration for Sally Bowles in Cabaret.
This is definitely not a drama for the Time Lord’s younger fans. “Hopefully people see me as an actor who can change into different roles,” says Matt. “I’ve very grateful for the opportunity and platform to do it. It’s one of the favourable things about having a great role like the Doctor.
“It’s challenging the perception that I can only be one thing. I always want to do varied work that is drastic and challenging, without wishing to sound too self-important because I’m not a brain surgeon. But this was a great story.”
He adds: “I’m just an actor playing a part. I don’t think it has any bearing whether I’m straight or purple or from Bognor Regis. You can be anything. The point is, you pretend and make it all up.”
Isherwood was born in the family home of Wyberslegh Hall, High Lane and died in 1986 at the age of 81. As a young man he sought adventure abroad and witnessed the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.
Pip Carter plays poet and friend WH Auden, with Lindsay Duncan as the author’s mother Kathleen, Imogen Poots as Jean and Douglas Booth as street cleaner Heinz, who Christopher fell in love with.
Along the way he also met the eccentric and sometimes outrageous Gerald Hamilton (Toby Jones), who inspired the title character in the novel Mr Norris Changes Trains.
Matt strips off for some of the scenes and experienced stubble rash for the first time. “You’ve got to commit to it, gung ho. It’s different from when you’re doing nude scenes with a boy than doing them with a girl, as you can imagine,” he explains.
“But I tried to commit to it and wholeheartedly go for it. Having to kiss boys, and finally understanding the nature of stubble rash, was interesting.”
Matt met Isherwood’s surviving partner Don Bachardy, who he lived with in California in later years, and visited their home. “We talked about Christopher and the sort of man he was. And we talked about their life and their love,” he recalls.
“I tried to get an essence of his spirit. It’s not an impersonation. This has given me great respect for people like Michael Sheen. But I hope I’ve captured a moment – that little glimpse of glee in Christopher’s eye you know he had. That mischief.”
After getting the role, Matt read his novels and watched the acclaimed film adaptation of A Single Man, which earned Colin Firth an Oscar nomination before he went on to win one for The King’s Speech.
Matt had already spent three months making another film in Berlin. “It’s one of my favourite cities in the world. I would have loved to have seen it at that time in the Thirties because even now it has such a liberal sort of atmosphere, that’s one of its great virtues. That’s one of the things that drew Christopher there.”
Sadly, financial demands means Belfast doubles for Berlin in this TV film, although you would never know it. While a dolphin desk clock featured on screen is the very same one Isherwood first encountered in his German lodgings.
It’s a bold, authentic and moving film which is certain to enhance Matt’s acting reputation away from the Tardis. But there was one part of making it that he hated – having to smoke cigarettes, as Isherwood did in real life.
“They were herbal. And let me tell you, they are just the worse things in the whole universe. I used to loathe them. But, of course, he smoked. You’ve just got to do it and get through that. It’s not forever.”